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Yes, the polelathe has been out and about. I know there is a lot of catching up to do since I last posted. It’s been a busy summer seasons of shows, demonstrations, courses and competitions and with plenty of work on the commons to fit in.

As if that wasn’t enough there have been additional projects, some planned and some unplanned. I won’t bore you with the details (not right now anyway) but I’ve also been emptying my parents old house in Somerset as my Dad has Alzheimer’s and we recently managed to get him into to a specialist nursing home near Taunton.

Verging on too much information I know, but it’s not left a lot of mental effort for posting articles and I am still finding more forms to fill in and letters to write  – never my strong point! But here is a flavour of some of the antics this summer that I need to catch on……

DSCF9522Unplanned project no1 – my trusty old 1960 brown landrover – aka ‘The Beast’ – started making unfamiliar noises, as opposed to the cacphony of familiar noises so comforting to old landrover owners. To cut a long story short ’twas the 54year old water pump and with this old engine sourcing the parts and repairing the old pump took the best part of a couple of weeks right in the middle of the season. Just when you don’t have a couple of weeks!

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I do like a Green Man. I’d almost forgotten passing some green Birch rounds onto Tony but when he came up to Lynchmere for a Scythe (Oh, oh the S-word is creeping in again already) training course he brought up one of his carvings and I really like it.

DSCF9586One of the big projects I set myself this year has been to learn to make and steam bend traditional English Scythe handles 0r Snathes as they are called around here. First get yourself a nice long straight Ash log and then cleave it.

DSCF9551I’ve been planning to rebuild the garden shed for some years now – I’m embarrassed to work out just how long it’s been waiting – but this is not the garden shed. It’s a shed for a new project – Project Pig Palace.  We could have gone and bought a conventional ark – but no! I knew of some convenient larch logs and it seemed a shame to waste them!

DSCF9893-001All you need for a new Pig Palace is …….Pigs. These two young Oxford Sandy and Blacks flew in from Wildcroft Rare Breeds  just south of the aptly named Hog’s Back  on the North Downs about 10miles north of us.

DSCF9718I seem to be running more courses each year and they are proving very popular, though I do find teaching is hard work and quite stressful. At this year’s polelathe improvers course Dave came with the objective of turning a bowl – and after plenty of hard work he succeeded in making a lovely little bowl.

DSCF9112Back on the commons the bracken just would not stop growing. I drafted in help from Lowell and Christopher (my nephew) here towing the bracken roller with Peter my old Massey Ferguson 135.

DSCF8193All of a sudden the season is marching onwards and it’s never too early to start splitting and stacking the firewood. This year I started around May so the firewood is better than ever – and this winter I shall be splitting and stacking for next winter, which is the way it should be. Famous last words!

DSCF9910We did make hay whilst the sun shone. This photo might surprise those of you who expected to see a team of mowers with scythes but we did the 10acre meadow with modern tractors. Besides I’ve posted on not much but scythes this year so on this post I’m trying to redress the balance a bit.

We had a lot of sunny days in July and August this year – but also lots of rainy ones and never enough sun so we made hay in September. A very different experience to be sitting in a modern tractor and rowing up the whole field in a couple of hours – I felt very lazy!

DSCF9986And then the apples arrived! Early this year, with one of my trees, the Tom Putt, almost bare by the end of August. In September I only managed to press a few gallons of juice from my apples and friends contributions – just as well as time was severely limited. But I have a cunning plan for a late pressing in the next couple of weeks.

DSCF9509Last time I posted on Puff the magic landrover it was just a chassis even if a very shiny one. Living up to his ‘now you see it – now you don’t reputation’.  This falls into the category of Project forced by necessity.  With no space and no time having a landrover in pieces to jam up the yard is not healthy and after a frantic burst of activity Puff was back on the road.  Puff passed the MOT with flying colours and was promptly put to work clearing more of the fallen trees.

DSCF0838Turned out to be Just in Time. As one landrover leaves intensive care the next one enters. Having been put to work on the commons whilst Puff was being ‘Puffed-Up’,  Georgina the green landrover (surely all your cars have names don’t they? I find it so much more satisfactory swearing at and occasionally kicking a car with a name rather than ‘it’) suffered a badly cracked chassis – probably caused by a tree stump hidden in the mud. With Puff back on the road and little time to spare Georgina has taken a bit of a back seat this summer, but she is recovering slowly but surely.

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A few weeks ago I visited my parents house in Wells, Somerset for the last time. Over the summer we’ve been emptying the house and finding new homes for the stuff accumulated over 35 years – on a rainy day we took out the very last loads leaving the house empty. It felt strange to be leaving the keys in the house and locking myself out, not just from the house, but from the last tangible link with a county thats been a part of my life since I was born. As if to say ‘Au Revoir’ the clouds parted to give one last typical sunset across the Somerset levels to Glastonbury Tor.

Thats just a small taste of things to catch up on – there will be plenty of work over the winter to post articles  and I will catch up in more detail soon.

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I always enjoy the Bodgers Ball and this year, hosted by Simon Damant at Wimpole Hall, was definitely not going to be an exception. I went up early to help with the preparations.  There is a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes in an attempt to make the Ball seem an effortless affair as 500 greenwood workers from all around the country and a fair few from around the world converge on an empty field for a fun weekend with all things woody.

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As I was running about trying to help out I didn’t take the best of photographs so this is a quick tour through some of the lesser known aspects of the Ball. Well, ok, perhaps it won’t be quite so quick! But I digress – With the field still empty Simon was able to use his horse John to move some of the logs around the site – these are for use with the Hewing demonstrations.

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The weather in May can be very changeable and we caught the wind being on a flat East Anglian field – the evenings were cold but my old washing machine drum cooking fire cum stove provided both heat and warmth.

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and, as if by magic, the Bodgers Ball suddenly appeared with an empty field transformed into a busy throng of woodworkers of every description doing their thing.

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The Saturday of the Ball is filled with demonstrations and workshops. The theme for this year’s ball was Agricultural tools and implements reflecting Home Farm, the working farm at Wimpole which is an original Victorian model farm. Julian from the Weald and Downland museum brought up plenty of the museum’s own cider – and while he was there we got him to hew one of the Elm logs dragged out by John the horse, into a beam.

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While I’m on the subject of the theme for the Ball – here are some of the entries into the themed item section of the craft competition this year. The maltsters shovel caught my eye – as did the massive 6ft buck rake, which I think was certainly worthy of winning (though unaccountably it didn’t) and is quite possibly the first Ash steamed buck rake made for many a decade?

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Richard Woodland demonstrated some simple leatherworking. There wasn’t enough time for any masterful saddlery, but he did show us how to convert a leather belt bought in a charity shop for a pound or two into a range of useful tool sheaths and covers.

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Exhausting all that demonstrating. Luckily it wasn’t a long weight until the bar opened…….

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with excellent local real ales from Buntingford Brewery near Royston only a few miles from the site. The Twitchell and Britannia went down very well (as did the 92 Squadron, Highwayman, Hurricane and Full Tilt!). Thanks to Steve the Brewer for teaching me some of the arcane arts of the cellar master.

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That’s the drink taken care of, but what about a spot of food! If you don’t like your food still squirming – then look away now, ooops – too late sorry.  Three local lambs (or were they Hoggett’s) were roasted slowly over a wood fire.

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And where is a butcher when you need one? In this case right where he’s needed, Justin is behind the charcoal bbq’s of the Threshing Restaurant cooking excellent bacon and eggs for breakfast. Now if we can just stop him telling that story again………..

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ably assisted by Olga (who it must be said can pat her head and rub her tummy at the same time) and Jess.

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Fed and watered it’s back to more demonstrations – Damien Goodburn turned up to show some work he’s been doing on reconstructions of ancient wooden shovels, paddles and (bakers) peels. This one is a peel, though apparently that’s largely because a flaw in the shaft makes it unsuitable as paddle.

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Good to see Paul Hayden with this years model of Polelathe – the current fashion being a short sporty pole/arm with a natty looking wooden spring underslung along the bed to give the pole more response.

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Richard Rood brought a long a vast collection of bygones for sale. This lovely plane would do well as a round of ‘What’s my Tool?’ – I almost avoided spending any money – and then Richard’s collection of old scythes prooved tooooo tempting. And there was all my money gone.. again.

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After all the demonstrating, the AGM, the competitions, tool auction, the races, and so many people to meet and catch up with suddenly, as if by magic, the shopkeeper appeared and the field emptied again. It really is a fantastic bunch of talented people, who, just by coming together make the Ball happen – as if by magic. Thank you to everyone who helped make it happen – you know who you are!  A strange feeling of anticlimax. That’s the ball over for another year. Where will we be next year?

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…And not just any snow but the wrong type of snow. Freezing rain overnight covered with slushy snow this morning made the roads and paths treacherous  This time last year the temperature was a mere 20 degrees C higher! You can see why the term ‘global warming’ has been dropped for ‘climate change’.

With the temperature plummeting in a biting easterly wind it meant some sub-zero polelathe turning for as long as I can manage before retreating to thaw out in front of the woodburner.

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Sadly the shed is an old open fronted cart shed – so no possibility of warming it up and extreme polelathe turning it is. As long as I can manage turns out to be about 30 minutes with the thermometer at -1 degrees C  in the early afternoon – maybe a tad longer if I do some drawknife work to warm up. Still, I can comfort myself that we don’t really know what cold is in Southern England – imagine what it must be like in Canada. Then I heard recently from my old friend Maarten (Max) Meerman in Vancouver that it’s been 12C over there, positively balmy,  it turns out that sometimes life just isn’t fair!

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Sadly a large Rowan (Sorbus Acuparia) fell over on the commons recently. You can see the disease that brought the tree down – the brown rot in the centre of the wood. But luckily for me, as Rowan is a super wood for turning, one of, if not my favourite turning wood and with some usuable lengths I should be able to get some nice items from it.

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With short stints on the lathe and very cold fingers I am limited to fairly simple shapes and items, but that’s no bad thing as it helps me to get some stock prepared before the season starts. You can just about make out the ‘two-tone’ of the light and brown colours of the spurtle on the right of the row. I’ve managed to split a billet from the right section of the cleft where the dark staining stops  – the grain is a little wonky but nice and fresh and the colours make it worth persevering.

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There is a limit to how many photos of turning items on my pole lathe I can post and I try to stop well before I reach saturation point. But sometimes I do end up agreeing to turn some strange items, and to be honest, the chance to try different things is something I find really motivating so it’s not hard to talk me into it – as was the case when I was asked to make some knitting needles recently.

These are not any old knitting needles mind you, they are extreme knitting needles – just what they will be knitting I’m not quite sure but I think it will be large.  These needles are over 12 inches long and one inch in diameter. It was great fun and I think they turned out well.

In a similar vein of experimentation Dave and Julian came around and we spent an evening in the chaos that is my open fronted shed spooning.  We had a good evening trying out lots of home made things, including spoons, spatulas,  the cider and beer which may, or may not, go well with the making of spoons.

I did tell you it was chaos in the Shed! But at the end of the day with more shavings on the floor and more firewood rescued and turned into useful items, what more could you want? Show us your spoons lads!

 

 

 

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Last Weekend I went up to Wimpole Hall, near Cambridge, to run a Weekend of Polelathe courses for Simon Damant who is the forester and manages a lot of the work on the National Trust owned Estate. One thing I like about visiting Wimpole is the big skies and it didn’t disappoint over the weekend  as we were treated to sunshine, cloud and impressive thunderstorms.

One of the thunderstorms had a clear funnel cloud and I had to take a photograph just to prove I wasn’t imagining it. It didn’t quite make it to the ground while I was watching – but an impressive sight all the same.

The hall is a big pile, originally started in the 17th Century and added to over the years until handed to the National Trust in 1976 by Elsie Bambridge, Rudyard Kiplings daughter. Thanks to the hospitality of Simon and Jess I got to lay my sleeping bag down in a spare room for a night. Despite Simon’s warning that the wife of the 5th earl still regularly patrols the rooms – I heard nothing – probably due to a few glasses of cider!

This was the first time that Wimpole had offered a poelathe course. I took up a couple of lathes for the course but Simon’s capable team of volunteers, mainly Peter and Jim,  had been hard at work building a set of lathes for Wimpole – and with a bit of tweaking up they are working fine – though one of the advantages of Peter coming in on the Sunday course is that he’s got a few ideas for how to improve the lathes further.

Lindsey was on the course and being local was delighted at the opportunity to learn polelathe skills just around the corner from her home.

Jim brought along a lathe he’d already made for the weekend with the aim of improving his ability to use it and learn a few hints and tips. We didn’t hold his bungie against him and judging by the pieces he made over the weeked Jim is well on his way to mastering his lathe.

As the Sunday course was intended as an ‘improvers workshop’ something I’ve run with some success at the Weald and Downland Museum before, I took along a birch bowl blank for a quick demonstration of  bowl turning on my own lathe.

After everone had had a go with the bowl hooks Simon finished off the bowl which luckily parted gracefully on the lathe and Andy Marczewski gave him some tips on how to smooth off the remains of the core with a crook knife.

Two days with a crowd  of greenwood folk was about all that Simon could take and he made a speedy exit on his 1948 BSA motor bike – almost, but not quite, quick enough to evade my camera though!

But not before leaving me with one of the first knives from his blacksmithing work at the victorian forge on the estate which he and his team have restored, part of his longterm aim to turn ploughshares (or in this case landrover leafsprings) into swords in an ironic twist to the usual story. Being carbon steel it has a good edge to it and I’ll need to make a woode handle for it which suits the blade.

As always I had a great time at Wimpole thanks to the hospitality and enthusiasm of the team there and I think that everyone on the courses had a good time which is the main aim of the event. I look forward to the next chance to visit and see what the team has been upto! Thanks to Simon, Jess, Andy, Jim, Peter and Neil for putting up with me over the weekend.

 

 

 

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Just for once it didn’t rain on Thursday when I spent a day  in the woodyard at the Weald & Downland museum.  It’s a working woodyard and forms a base for many woody activities as well as supporting other projects within the museum.

There is always a lot of work going on but as this can be anywhere across the museum site and its surrounding woodland  it’s not unusual for the woodyard to seem deserted. But this week has been a ‘Woodyard week’ with plenty of work planned and I got to join in for a day polelathe turning and also lending a hand in the yard – irressistible to a congenital ‘woody’ like me.

Ben is building a number of wheels to replace old ones that can’t be fixed up any more on wagons that are part of the museum collection and that get used by the museum. These new hubs are turned from Elm, a wood with grain so twisty that it is renowned for resisting splitting when the spokes are knocked in. The red wheel is one from the museums timber wagon and the new hubs will be used to build replacements and get the timber wagon back on the road.

Oak beams are sawn and hewn in the woodyard to provide replacements for buildings and projects around the museum. We used the  woodyard hand operated timbercrane to extract some beams from the pile for a project which Guy is working on.

This  butt is in the process of being hewn into an Oak beam and will eventually be used in one of the museum’s projects. The process of hewing the round timber into a squared off beam is a great demonstration for visitors   – not least because of the sense of danger in watching someone stand on a log and swing an axe at their feet!

As you’d expect there is a kettle in the yard.  A proper one.  Somehow a cup of tea always tastes fresher when it’s brewed over an open fire, especially one thats powered by the shavings from the hewing and turning of the mornings work.

As you may have noticed the denizens of the yard are not that keen on appearing on camera, not on mine at least and despite plying them with a whole box of broken biscuits they still managed to elude me, but I should thank Julian, Ben, John and Guy for letting me join in for the day and also the visitors brave enough to make it to the woodyard who certainly enjoyed the experience.

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The second weekend in May is the Annual Bodgers Ball when members of the Association of Polelathe Turners & Greenwood Workers gather somewhere in a field for the Annual General Meeting. When I turned up early on Thursday Morning the weather was non too auspicious. That’s an understatement – it was terrible. The clouds down on the ground, raining all day in galeforce winds. You couldn’t see one side of the field from the other, you know what I mean – typical British camping holiday weather! Great weather for a weekend event in a field in West Dorset.

Luckily for us as if by magic the weather cleared and the sun blazed down on the site revealing the West Dorset Countryside and the sea at Charmouth only a couple of miles away between the rolling hills.  Although you couldn’t drive onto the site on Friday morning by the afternoon it was drying rapidly enough for everyone to set up camp.

A fine array of shelters, lathes, greenwood working demonstrations and activities filled the site which for this year included the large beechwood just behind the main field.

The Ball is an opportunity to meet up with friends not seen since the previous season and to catch up on events – though it always seems to flash past and there is never enough time to meet, see and do all the things I planned. Sean Hellman gave a great worskhop on sharpening with stones. If you missed his workshop there is some great information on his blog – but make sure you’ve got some time to appreciate it, it’s a great source of valuable information – here a link to a stone article to get you started – Natural Stones on Seans Blog

It was good to meet up with Barnaby (aka Barn the Spoon) the maestro of itinerant spoon carving. Though for this ball Barn went upmarket with a friend, old series IIa Landrover Safari and awning to make the most of the blazing sunshine.

Hard work, great conversation late into the evening at the pub constructed on the site with local Lyme Regis ales (great beer) and Cider from Dai Saltmarsh at Five Penny Farm led inevitably to the morning after. You’ll have heard of the 4 Yorkshiremen sketch, but may not know it was actually 1 Yorkshireman and three from Shropshire. Here they are in action, Bob, Neil, Tony and Richard – casting aspersions on all and sundry around the fire on a sunny but chilly morning whilst awaiting the kettle to boil (again).

The pub for the event was an old stone shed at the edge of the field cleaned out and fitted with woodburner, bar and local beer. Did anyone take a photo of the Pub, particularly the pub sign as I managed not to?

Robin Tuppen from Royal Sussex Trugs joined us at the ball for the first time with his apprentice and it was great to see his work. I particularly liked the steamer based upon a solid iron monster of an old army stove and a wood and leather steam chamber.

It does take all sorts. We had polelathes, bungee lathes, treadle lathes and I don’t think this one actually has a name. No pole and it works on a flywheel system which provides plenty of inertia for turning bowls and plates. I know – lets just call it a lathe.  The tools are scraping with a burr rather than cutting like a knife – one of the tools is actually a file squared off at the end and then rotated as the burr wears to present a new surface. Very interesting approach and great to see so many ‘rules’ being broken at once!

Since we were in Beechwood the logs for the log-to-leg race were from local beech. For a few years now we’ve been spoilt with exceptionally straight and knot free Ash for the racing so I think it made a good contrast to be using the local Beech.

Not an easy task to split the wood into clefts as James discovered when the froe bounced off the end. Even the wedge didn’t want to go in – at that point we renamed the event the ‘Bouncing Beech Ball’.

In the half hour challenge greenwood workers make a product of their choice. Somehow, despite being busy all day Ben Orford got his lathe setup and made a great baby rattle for the challenge.

West Dorset is a long trek from Yorkshire and Richard Law didn’t bring his lathe – but that didn’t stop him from entering the half hour challenge with some hand tools. Good man! They look great, but what is it you are making Richard?

I didn’t get any photos of the log to leg races as I found myself competing in both events. At the last minute I failed to argue my way out of the team event and then had to do it all again for the individual race. The times were a lot slower with the Beechwood, but despite my shavehorse breaking in the individual event I still finished.

It seemed only minutes after the last race finished that I looked up and the field was empty again. The clouds were back and rain in the offing.  Was it all a dream? It almost seems like it. But it’s a dream I will remember for a long while, so thank you everyone who came trusting in the weather and particularly the organiser Dai Saltmarsh and the owners of the site who allowed us to use it, it was a pleasure to work with you. Great place, great people and an amazing event – it’s going to be a hard act to follow, but we always do. We don’t yet know  where we will be next year, but we’ll sort that out in the next few months so stay tuned if you fancy coming to the ball next year!

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